27 May 2018

‘If God were not Trinity,
God could not have loved
prior to creating other beings
on whom to bestow God’s love’

A modern copy of Andrei Rublev’s icon, the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham, by Eileen McGuckin

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 27 May 2018, Trinity Sunday.

11.30 a.m., The Festal Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Readings: Isaiah 6: 1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8: 12-17; John 3: 1-17.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today is Trinity Sunday. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was proclaimed to the world after the first great Pentecost. So, it is fitting that the feast of the Trinity today follows immediately after that of Pentecost last Sunday.

I remember a time when the Athanasian Creed was used on Trinity Sunday in parishes in the Church of Ireland and the Church of England.

This is one of the three great creeds of the Church, alongside the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. But in recent years, this Creed has been relegated to a place in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland between the Catechism and the Preamble to the Constitution.

It is in a difficult place to find, between pages 771 and 773, and there are no directions about when or where it might be used.

So how do we explain the Holy Trinity, a key understanding of God, in a world that today finds it difficult to wrestle with deep and often abstract philosophical concepts?

How do we explain, or even introduce, the topic of the Trinity in a way that people can understand without being boring?

The Athanasian Creed is not the most popular of creeds nowadays, nor is it the easiest to understand. But on Trinity Sunday, as we worship God, it is worth recalling how it says:

‘And the Catholic Faith is this:
That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity.’

But some other parts of the Athanasian Creed would be harder work to explain this morning.

On the other hand, the Belfast-born writer, CS Lewis, well-loved by many as the author of the Narnia Chronicles, writes in Mere Christianity:

‘A world of one dimension would be a straight line. In a two-dimensional word, you still get straight lines, but many lines make one figure. In a three-dimensional world, you still get figures but many figures make one solid body. In other words, as you advance to more real and more complicated levels, you do not leave behind you the things you found on the simpler levels: you still have them, but combined in new ways – in ways you could not imagine if you knew only the simpler levels.

‘Now the Christian account of God involves just the same principle. The human level is a simple and rather empty level. On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and two squares are two separate figures.

‘On the Divine level, you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we, who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.’ [CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp 137-138]

The mediaeval fresco of the Holy Trinity in the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral … severely damaged by 17th century Puritans (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

As I was praying and thinking about this morning’s theme, I spent time in prayer and reading, and found my prayers were helped by a photograph I have of a fresco on the wall of the south choir aisle in Lichfield Cathedral depicting the Holy Trinity.

This scene, showing the Trinity flanked by two censing angels, was painted sometime between the 14th and mid-15th century.

This painting was damaged severely by the Puritans in the religious strife later in the mid-17th century. But it is still possible to look closely and to see how it originally depicted the Holy Trinity.

As I look at it closely, I can just make out the representation of God the Father seated on a golden throne, clad in a red robe.

He is holding his crucified Son, God the Son, Jesus Christ, before him. Originally, this fresco would have shown a full depiction of the Crucifixion. However, all that can be seen today are the legs of Christ, with his feet nailed to the Cross.

God the Holy Spirit, traditionally depicted as a white dove, is now missing from this painting because of Puritan vandalism. But originally the Holy Spirit was placed in this painting between the heads of God the Father and God the Son.

What this fresco teaches me is that we can always catch glimpses of God. When we see the work of Christ, we see the work of God the Father, and so on. We may not always see how the Holy Spirit is working in us, or in others, but we still know that God is working in love in us and in others.

And the best way we experience that is being open to the love of God and in loving others.

The late Thomas Hopko (1939-2015), a renowned Orthodox theologian, has argued that if God were not Trinity, God could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow God’s love … if God were not Trinity, God could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow God’s love.

This love or communion of God as Trinity is extended to us in the communion of the Church. It is not just the Trinitarian faith into which we are baptised, but also the love or fellowship of the Trinity.

That message of love at the heat of what we believe and experience in the truth of the Holy Trinity was explained in a very non-dogmatic, non-doctrinal, non-philosophical way by three students at the Graduation Ceremony in Coláiste na Trócaire in Rathkeale on Wednesday night when they read this:

I believe …

That our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.

That no matter how good a friend is, they’re going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.

That just because someone doesn’t love you the way you want them to doesn’t mean that they don’t love you with all they have.

That true friendship continues to grow even over the longest distance, same goes for true love.

That it’s taking me a long time to become the person I want to be.

That you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you see them.

That you can keep going long after you think you can’t.

That we are responsible for what we do, no matter how we feel.

That either you control your attitude, or it controls you.

That heroes are the people who do what has to be done, when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

That my best friend and I can do anything or nothing and still have the best time.

That sometimes the people you expect to kick you when you are down will be the ones to help you get back up.

That sometimes when I’m angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn’t give me the right to be cruel.

That it isn’t always enough to be forgiven by others. Sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself.

That no matter how bad your heart is broken, the world doesn’t stop for your grief.

That you shouldn’t be so eager to find out a secret, it may change your life forever.

That two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different.

That your life can be changed in a matter of hours by people who don’t even know you.

That the people you care about in life are taken from you much too soon.

And I realised then that their teachers had taught them so much about the truth that lies behind everything we try to teach about why the doctrine of the Holy Trinity matters now more than ever in the Church.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This sermon was prepared for Trinity Sunday, 27 May 2018.

Trinitarian truths expressed in in a stained-glass window in Michaelhouse, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Resources:

Penitential Kyries:

Father, you come to meet us when we return to you.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Jesus, you died on the cross for our sins.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit, you give us life and peace.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
Keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Peace to you from God our heavenly Father.
Peace from his Son Jesus Christ who is our peace.
Peace from the Holy Spirit the Life-giver.
The peace of the Triune God be always with you.
And also with you.


You have revealed your glory
as the glory of your Son and of the Holy Spirit:
three persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendour,
yet one Lord, one God,
ever to be worshipped and adored:

Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
may we who have received this holy communion,
worship you with lips and lives
proclaiming your majesty
and finally see you in your eternal glory:
Holy and Eternal Trinity,
one God, now and for ever.


God the Holy Trinity
make you strong in faith and love,
defend you on every side,
and guide you in truth and peace:

The Visitation of Abraham or the ‘Old Testament Trinity’ … a fresco in the Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, interprets a Trinitarian and Eucharistic theme (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty
323, The God of Abraham praise
468, How shall I sing that majesty.

An image of the Trinity in Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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